Thoughts on the OryCon Hiatus

In 2021, after OryCon 42, the event is planning to go on hiatus until – minimum 2023 – after announcing an indefinite hiatus. This means, for at least next year, possibly longer if they don’t get volunteers, Oregon will be without a Lit-SF convention. As OryCon is the first lit-SF convention I went to, the convention that caused me to get started on my fanzine, and where I made several people I consider to be good Con-Friends, I have some thoughts about this.

OryCon 2023 volunteer request announcement.
This announcement came up on 11/14/2021, after previously saying they were going on indefinite hiatus.

I should get my criticisms out of the way up-front. These are points that I brought up with the relevant OryCon staffers on several occasions, and was generally dismissed when I brought these up – but they bear motioning again, particularly related to attempts to get a steady base of younger attendees at the con.

First – OryCon has ended up too close to Kumoricon. This is due to Kumo getting pushed further and further back in the year, because of available space at the Oregon Convention Center (OCC). Frankly, this is not Kumo’s fault – they have reached a point, in terms of size, where I can’t see them going anywhere else. The Expo Center doesn’t work for an autumn convention – it’s pretty drafty and doesn’t have the right kind of spaces for panels that the OCC has. Further, Kumo has outgrown all the hotels in Portland – the last year in Vancouver had the convention split between two hotels, once of which has since been demolished.

It is theoretically possible that Kumoricon could take over, for example, the University of Portland campus over the summer term, but not to the degree that I think would match the available space at the OCC – and it’s very likely that any university would say no to Kumo’s requests. So, Kumo’s scheduling is at the whim of the OCC. Consequently, OryCon is now very close to Kumo, close enough that on top of the proximity to Thanksgiving and Black Friday, that it would make it very difficult for younger attendees to get time off work to attend.

When I previously brought this up to an OryCon staffer who had some influence about this (several years ago – but shortly after the move to the OCC for Kumo), the response I was given, after talking about dealing with the limited date windows that the OCC was giving, was that OryCon was the older event, and Kumoricon should have to change their dates to fit OryCon. That response – on its own – with the implication that the person I was speaking to had either ignored what I said, didn’t care, or casually dismissed it out of the perceived strength OryCon’s own seniority, was frustrating.

Secondly, OryCon’s anime programming, while I was attending, was tainted by one particularly obnoxious person who was on – not all panels, but many of them. He identified himself as having previously been involved with programming the AMV rooms at Kumoricon. What would inevitably happen, at least once per OryCon is that Miyazaki would come up on a panel that he was on. He would then make a statement that he did not like Miyazaki, and that he was an “anti-environmentalist,” that he was in favor of completely using up this planet and moving on to another one.

This could be construed as a joke – if he didn’t keep using it over and over again year after year, and whenever it came up, I noticed a degree of discomfort among the younger attendees of the panel, especially once I started noticing the trend of this remark, and started looking at other peoples responses to see if I was the only one who felt uncomfortable. In turn, I also started noticing that I didn’t see that many repeat younger attendees, particularly when it came to people who went to panels this guy was on. It probably didn’t help that this person was significantly older than the younger attendees, in a “by the time it comes to face the consequences for the crap I’m saying, I’ll be dead so it doesn’t matter to me” kind of way.

I also brought this up with OryCon staff, and generally, people made a note of it, but nothing seemed to have come on it, since he was still on anime panels the subsequent year – though we did get a youth run anime panel that year, so that was an improvement. I wasn’t able to attend OryCon after that, so I can’t speak to subsequent events.

All of that said, I enjoyed going to OryCon tremendously. I loved being able to meet science fiction writers whose work I enjoy, and to spend time around other SF fans (and in the process causing Mt. TBR to grow exponentially). I can’t help but think that not going to OryCon is part of the reason why my fanzine shifted from doing a PDF zine to focusing more on the blog and YouTube channel.

OryCon had a generally different atmosphere from Kumoricon – partly because the panels were always a little more freeform in their structure, and the number of attendees were a little lighter. It was all a lot more chill and laid back than Kumoricon. This isn’t to say that you couldn’t find a place to hang out and chat at Kumo (when you could find a spot to sit down), but more that it almost felt that OryCon’s raison d’etre was a more conversational and laid back experience. I valued that, particularly with how much Kumo always feels like I need to keep moving, keep going to something – a panel, the dealers room, etc.

Also, it’s important, I think, to have that crossover between Lit-SF and anime. For readers – and writers – of speculative fiction to get exposed to works not only from languages outside of the NA/EuroZone, but to be aware that there’s more to SF on TV or on film beyond Star Trek-Doctor Who-Black Mirror. Good SF stories are being told in these avenues. Similarly, anime fandom in the US that can get a very myopic focus on anime to the exclusion of other fandoms – just reading light novels and not reading other fiction coming from the US, Canada, the African emigre community, etc. That two-way street needs to be there, and the way you get that is through co-operation between anime conventions and science fiction conventions.

OryCon could have done better, but they were at least putting in an attempt, while I was going. I hope that whatever form it has in the future is one that will have the flexibility to turn that small alleyway into something bigger – for the sake of the future of Lit-SF conventions.

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